(John Moore, Getty Images)
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY
Many heavy children and their parents are looking for ways to help kids reach a healthier weight, but there are few places to go for guidance.
Now a new pilot study suggests that kids can trim down in a six-month weight-loss program that combines group support along with parental help at home.
Scientists at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education tracked 155 obese children, average age 11, who attended a weight-management program with a trained facilitator for six months at several YMCAs in Providence, R.I.
The children along with their parents went to 12 group sessions with the facilitator, and they had 12 sessions at home where parents helped their kids evaluate their progress and set new goals.
The kids learned how to limit or avoid foods such as cookies, candy, sugar-sweetened beverages and fried foods, and they were taught about the healthful foods that they should be consuming.
The children were encouraged to limit screen time (TV, computers) to no more than two hours a day, get enough sleep and be physically active. They learned how to track their food intake, screen time, physical activity level and sleeping time.
The program was a modified version of more involved, expensive university-based programs that have been successful in helping kids lose weight.
The findings, reported online today in the journal Pediatrics, show that at the end of six months: 10% fewer children were obese. Overall, both kids and parents said they felt the children had a better quality of life.
"If all the kids across the country were exposed to a program like this, we could significantly reduce childhood obesity," says lead author Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia.
His best advice to kids and parents who want to get started now:
-- Try to limit junk foods like cookies to two or less a day.
-- Limit screen time to two hours or less a day.
Registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself and Your Family Better, says, "Clearly, a healthy weight is a family affair, and parents serve as powerful models for a healthy lifestyle.
"It's much easier to help your child to a healthy weight when you don't keep tempting treats in the house, including soda, cookies, and chips. Those are once-in-a-while foods."
The study was funded by the UnitedHealth Group.